“Isn’t it neat to think that samurais once sat around here, and probably drank sake?”
It is. The sun just set minutes before, and a friend and I are sipping champagne next to a pond. She continues: this isn’t any pond, but an 800-year old one that belonged to a prominent samurai family centuries ago. Called Shakusui-en (pond garden), it also happens to be the physical and spiritual heart of Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto, where I planted myself during my first visit to Japan’s cultural capital. The sky is now a velvety midnight blue, and the amber light from the guestrooms’ windows casts a luminous, mirror-like reflection on the still water.
Though my three-night trip was too brief and mostly spent offsite, the property was the ideal place to continue experiencing the city’s cuture in between my times of exploration. From the hushed, cocoon-like accommodations overlooking the pond to the tranquil sanctuary of a spa, Four Seasons Hotel Kyoto delivers thoughtfully-curated moments that echo the essence of the storied destination at every turn.
As I was fatigued from flying and training the day I arrived, I opted for an early dinner at Sushi Wakon. Hidden away off the hotel’s main lobby, the Michelin-starred restaurant serves Edomae-style sushi in an omakase format, with pristine seafood flown in daily from Tokyo’s famed Toyosu Market. The blonde hinoki wood counter by Yasuimoku Komuten, a generations-old company founded by local craftsmen, is narrow to encourage interaction between the sushi chefs and diners, and to allow quick consumption of the nigiri—which is best enjoyed with your hands, not chopsticks—after it’s presented. Most importantly: the highly-trained chefs implicitly understand the intricate art of sushi, from cooking the rice with soft water to keeping every cut of fish, including lesser-known ones like Sayori and Kohada (a personal favorite), at a specific temperature for optimal flavor and texture.
Following a restorative rest, bountiful breakfast buffet at Brasserie, the hotel’s signature eatery, and 11 miles of trekking around Kyoto, I closed my second day with another meal at Brasserie. This time around, though, I tucked into the seasonal prix fixe dinner menu by Chef de Cuisine Ryuji Koga, whose courses included his signature playful “Origami” composed of cured salmon and colorful autumnal crisps, and a creamy risotto of local Kinuhikari rice and foraged mushrooms. Then, it was back to bed for another dreamy night’s slumber.
The next morning, I ordered a traditional Japanese breakfast—perhaps my favorite way to start the day—in the comfort of my room. As with everything else I experienced in Kyoto up to that point, an unbelievable amount of care was put into my meal of rice, miso soup, grilled fish, and assorted vegetables, pickled and cooked. The rice was so plump and glossy it resembled tiny jewels.
Since I checked off the remaining sites on my list fairly quickly, I treated myself to the hotel’s best-selling afternoon tea by Pastry Chef Reiko Yokota as an early bird supper. Inspired by seasonality and the integrity of her ingredients, Yokota’s take on the tradition swaps out the usual three-tier stand for a more whimsical presentation. Her current fall tea features two types of scones, savory nibbles, and dainty sweets baked with pumpkins and chestnuts. To help lull me to sleep afterwards, I drew a bath in my delightfully deep soaking tub with the complimentary yuzu-scented sachets from Kyoto-based beauty brand Chidoriya World.
The rain on the final morning dampened further exploration of the city, so I headed to the spa to lift my spirits. While the 60-minute Heavenly Green Tea Therapy facial I experienced involved soothing circular massage techniques—which transitioned from large to small—and an array of Kotoshina green tea products, Assistant Spa Manager Miyuki Yasuda explained the unique treatment is about much more than beautifying—it’s about healing and overall wellbeing, too. She was right: my dull, travel-weary complexion wasn’t the only thing that looked and felt more balanced. My mind was also in a brighter mood, already planning my return to Kyoto.